Despite End of Cold War, Moscow’s Spying Persists
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ Guido Kindt got a scoop when he interviewed Belgium’s first astronaut even before NASA officials could fully debrief him last month after a shuttle flight.
Less than a week later, Kindt’s newspaper had more news: Kindt was unmasked as a Russian spy, showing that Moscow’s old habits die hard.
A spate of arrests and expulsions this spring in several European nations showed Russia is still conducting espionage against its former enemies.
The East-West struggle for military supremacy may be over, but Russia sees industrial spying as a rich source for boosting its flagging economy, European government officials and analysts say.
″It became very clear the security services have been revamped,″ said Jonathan Eyal, director of studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London. ″Now, a lot of activities will center on acquiring technical, economic information and industrial espionage.″
Whatever kind of spying, it still evokes memories of the Cold War.
Belgium is home to the NATO alliance, the European Community and astronaut Dirk Frimout, who was on last month’s Atlantis shuttle.
Kindt reached Frimout for a full account of the flight even before NASA officials got all the details. The account was frontpage news.
Just days after Kindt returned from the ″splash-down party″ in Houston with Frimout, he was arrested as Soviet and Russian spy in a police action codenamed ″Glasnost.″ He has since admitted to passing on information since 1967, his defense lawyer August Gooris said.
Together with Kindt, four other Belgians, including three businessmen from high-tech and chemical companies, have an initial court appearance on the charges Friday.
After uncovering the spy ring, the government expelled four Russian diplomats.
A Belgian judicial source said the ring was discovered based on information from Vladimir Comopliev, a defector who used to be a first secretary at the Soviet embassy in Brussels.
Belgian Foreign Minister Willy Claes said the spy ring may have been trying to obtain a high-tech battlefield communications system developed by the French electronics company Thomson and used by the United States, French and Belgian forces.
Dominos kept falling in neighboring countries with the arrest in Paris of a Belgian allegedly operating an industrial spy ring for Russia - a case directly related to the Belgian group.
At the same time, the Netherlands kicked out a trade attache and three other Russians, also for alleged spying.
Germany arrested three of its citizens for feeding information to the KGB up until this year.
″I cannot hide my bitterness that at a time when we must convince public opinion that significant budgetary efforts must be made vis-a-vis (Russia), they still find the money to finance activities we thought belonged to the past,″ Claes said.
During the Cold War, many spy activities went diplomatically unpunished because of the balance of power. Now, retaliation can be much quicker.
″Western governments are determined to show Russia that (despite) the warming relationship, they are not going to put up with this,″ said Eyal. ″So the expulsions are a perfect example.″
Some call it naive to think Russia would scrap its intelligence operations after making friends with the West.
At the same time as Operation Glasnost was carried out, former NATO and Warsaw Pact nations were flying over each other’s territory, taking detailed pictures of military bases, as part of the Open Skies agreement. It was a dramatic illustration that military spying was in decline.
Not so when Kindt was a Soviet pawn. He regularly visited the library at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels during the 1970s, passing on information on NATO’s Advisory Group for Aerospace Research and Technology, the judicial source said.
Gooris said Kindt’s access to the sensitive information was cut in 1984 when the NATO library was put off limits because of terrorist bomb attacks by left-wing terrorists.